It is the tradition that the Easter bunny delivers decorated eggs and candy to children across the US. Introduced by German immigrants in the 1700s the Osterhase (a rabbit) brought gifts of eggs symbolising fertility and rebirth. Going back to the root of the tradition, a goddess of fertility, Eostre (who may have been one of the inspirations for the name Easter), is said to have been accompanied by a hare, although many sources debate this connection.
Hot Cross Buns are a favourite treat at Easter in the UK. Supermarket shelves will be groaning with these delicious traditional buns – a combination of spicy, sweet and fruity flavours, with a cross carved into the top of the buns to symbolise the cross that Jesus was killed on. It is thought that a 12th-century monk introduced the cross to the bun. According to the story, an Anglican monk baked the buns and marked them with a cross in honor of Good Friday. Over time they gained popularity, and eventually became a symbol of Easter weekend.
Whilst in many countries Easter eggs are hidden and children hunt for them, in Germany Easter eggs are displayed on trees and prominently in streets, with some of the trees having thousands of multi colored eggs hanging on them.
Easter celebrations start on Holy Thursday (aka “Gründonnerstag”), when according to tradition, you can only eat green things. One of the typical dishes in Germany is the seven herbs soup, containing watercress, dandelion, chives, parsley, leek greens, sorrel and spinach.
On Easter morning everyone in the family traditionally washes their face with the water in which a red-painted egg and a silver coin have been sunk. The red egg symbolizes health and the silver purity.
Families then get together for a 4-5 course Easter meal, similar to Thanksgiving. Traditionally a sour soup called “ciorba” is served followed by salad, pickles, roasted lamb stake, a meat pie made of lamb liver and lots of fresh parsley called “drob” and lots of painted eggs.
‘Sprinkling” is a popular Hungarian Easter Monday tradition, in which boys playfully sprinkle perfume or water over a young woman’s head and ask for a kiss. Young men used to pour buckets of water over a woman's heads before asking for a kiss - people used to believe that water had a cleaning, healing and fertility-inducing effect. We imagine the resulting kisses were a bit thin on the ground!
In the town of Haux, a giant omelette made with 4,500 eggs that feeds over 1,000 people is served up every Easter in the town’s main square. According to the locals, Napoleon and his army stopped in the town and ate omelettes. Napoleon enjoyed his so much that he ordered the townspeople to gather their eggs and make a giant omelette for his army the next day. We’re not sure how the tradition came to be associated with Easter – but it is!
In Florence, the city hosts a 350-year-old Easter tradition known as Scoppio del Carro, or "explosion of the cart." An ornate cart packed with fireworks is led through the streets of the city by people in colorful 15th century costumes before stopping outside the Duomo. The Archbishop of Florence then lights a fuse during Easter mass that leads outside to the cart and sparks a spectacular fireworks display. The meaning behind the custom dates back to the first crusade and is meant to ensure a good harvest.
The main event in Poland is the “blessing basket.” Families will fill a basket with colored eggs, sausages, bread, and other important food and taken to church to be blessed. In Polish culture, Lent isn’t over until a priest blesses this basket.
Brazil and other Latin American countries participate in an unsettling tradition called ‘The Burning of Judas’. As the name suggests locals make an effigy of Judas out of straw, the apostle who betrayed Jesus, hang it in the streets and burn it. Sometimes, people make the effigy explode with fireworks. In recent years the ‘Judas’ has morphed into unpopular politicians!
The town of Verges celebrates with the Dansa de la Mort (Death Dance). The macabre dance begins at midnight and continues for three hours into the early morning. Participants dress up like skeletons and re-enact scenes from Easter story. The last skeletons in the parade carry a box of ashes with them.
On the morning of Holy Saturday, the traditional "pot throwing" takes place on the Greek island of Corfu. People throw pots, pans and other earthenware out of their windows, smashing them on the street. Some say the custom derives from the Venetians, who on New Year's Day used to throw out all of their old items. Others believe the throwing of the pots welcomes spring, symbolizing the new crops that will be gathered in the new pots.
The Finnish believe that evil spirits roam free on the Saturday before Easter so they burn bonfires in the belief that the flames will ward off witches who fly around on brooms between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
Continuing along this theme, children dress up like witches and go begging for chocolate eggs in the streets with made-up faces and scarves around their heads, carrying bunches of willow twigs decorated with feathers.
In terms of traditional foods, a sweet tradition is eating Mämmi, a baked desert made of powdered orange peel, dark molasses and rye flour. Mämmi is mentioned for the first time in the 16th century and it is believed to originate from either medieval Germany or Iran.
Czech Republic & Slovakia
And we’ve left the strangest until last. There’s an Easter Monday tradition in Eastern Europe where men ‘playfully’ spank women with handmade whips made of willow and decorated with ribbons! According to legend, the willow is the first tree to bloom in the spring, so the branches are supposed to transfer the tree's vitality and fertility to the women. Maybe a visit at Easter is one to avoid….
There are so many traditions around the world, far more than we have been able to include. But if there’s an even more unusual tradition where you live, or you have a unique family tradition you’d like to share, why not join the Facebook Chemotherapy Support Group and tell everyone about the weird and wonderful things you’ll be getting up to this Easter.
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